Exploring the Greenman
The Greenman is a woodland God. He represents the wild, untamed Spirit of Nature. His face is covered in foliage, and He often has leaves pouring out of His mouth and nostrils. The foliage can change with the seasons and is sometimes shown with fruits, acorns, and/or berries. In some of the oldest representations, He is shown with horns.
His domain is the wild places in nature, the places untouched by humans. He is the wisdom and essence of wild nature and the deep forest. He is the male energy and force behind nature. He is the fecundity of nature, sometimes seen as the male counterpart to 'Mother Nature'. He is the Lord of the Greenwood to some and the Dying Resurrecting God of Vegetation to others.
In the Northern Hemisphere, His power cycle tends to be when the green growth of the world is at its zenith, from the spring equinox to the summer solstice, peaking at Beltaine or May Day. Because he returns each spring with new growth, He is associated with renewal, resurrection, and rebirth.
Though He is most often depicted with oak leaves and acorns, He is at times shown with holly leaves and berries. Because of this, He is associated with both the Oak King and the Holly King and seen as seasonal versions of the two Kings by many. Others may view the three as separate entities.
Other deities and folk names he is associated with include: Dionysus (Greek), Pan (Greek), Bacchus (Roman), Faunus (Roman), Osiris (Egyptian), Tammuz/Dumuzi (Babylonian/Sumerian), Tlaloc (Mexican), Kirtimukha (Hindu), Amogha-siddhi (Tibetan) Green George (Celtic), Green Jack (Celtic), Jack O' the Green (Celtic), and The Garland King (Celtic).
Greenman Face on European Churches
The Greenman face used to adorn churches throughout Europe and can still be found on many of the older churches that remain today.
There was a time in Europe when Paganism and Christianity thrived side by side. During this time, it was common to adorn churches with the face of the Greenman. In the beginning, this was done to encourage Pagans to enter and join the Christian church by including their deity among the decor.
Over time however, as Pagan and Christian relations began to deteriorate, and attendance to the Christian church became more and more mandatory, the use and meaning of the Greenman face on churches also began to degenerate. In many cases, it began being used to denote segregation.
Not unlike the later segregation of African Americans in the US, particularly in the South, some churches started to require Pagans to use a separate entrance to churches. Often this would be a side or hidden entrance of the church that was identified by the Greenman face above its door. It was during this time that the Greenman face also began to also take on demonic connotations.
Prior to 1939, these faces found on churches were most commonly referred to simply as "foliate masks" or "foliate heads." Then in March of 1939, an article by the name of "The Green Man in Church Architecture” by Lady Raglan was published in Folklore journal. It is believed that this is what cemented the name Greenman as the preferred description for the foliate masks found on old European churches.
Currently, the Greenman motif is still alive and triving. The Greenman is popular throughout Celtic Europe as a pub or inn name. And His face and sometime full form can be found adorning the signs of both.
Working With the Greenman
Here are some ideas on how to incorporate the magick of the Greenman into your daily life and rituals.
- Honor and respect nature.
- Think about your impact on the environment, look for ways to reduce your carbon foot print.
- Spend time in nature, go hiking, camping, sleep outside, etc.
- Leave a section of your yard completely wild and untouched.
- Plant trees and/or a garden.
- If you don't have a yard, add some houseplants to your space.
- Incorporate herbs into your food, garden, bouquets, etc.
- Make and drink green juices and smoothies.
- Wear the color green and incorporate greens into your home decor.
- Give yourself permission to go a little wild.
- If you have a favorite tree, leave offerings or build an altar to the Greenman at the base of the tree, commune with it often, and meditate underneath it.
- Build an altar dedicated to the Greenman incorporating natural items rather than store bought or man made.
- Lead or attend a ritual focused on the magick of the Greenman.
- Invoke the Greenman during any of your Spring rites, festivals, or rituals.
Symbols & Magickal Attributes
Use these items with intention on your altar or in your daily rituals to welcome the energy of the Greenman.
- All green growing things (i.e. plants, grasses, vegetation, leaves, foliage, etc.)
- Fresh fruits, berries, greens and vegetables
- Nuts, seeds, acorns, roots
- Trees, forests and groves
- All things of nature (i.e. feathers, stones, sticks, bones, etc)
- All shades of the color green. Browns and black.
- Wild, carefree, renewable energy
- Growth, youth, vitality, and virility
In our modern world it is all to easy to feel disconnected from nature. The Greenman is here to remind us that we are an integral part of nature, not separate from it. Building your connection to the Greenman will only enhance your connection to the natural world all around you. I hope you are inspired by the ideas here to create your own working relationship with the Greenman and to connect more deeply with nature.
References and Resources
An A, B, C of Witchcraft Past and Present by Doreen Valiente
The Witches' God by Janet and Stewart Farrar